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Ban on Castor Hits Red Rock

Filed by KOSU News in Business, Feature, Local News.
April 6, 2012
 

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Earlier, I wrote about the castor bean plan.

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Last year, the Otoe Missouria tribe started approaching farmers in Red Rock. Would they harvest castor beans on their land? The tribe would pay them for it, crush the bean and convert it into biofuel. But earlier this week, legislators officially crushed that plan. Governor Fallin signed into law a ban on any commercial production of castor beans. In the tiny town of Red Rock, the jobs promised could have made a difference…

Downtown Red Rock is really just one business: The Rock. It’s a combination restaurant, thrift store, convenience stop and anything else you might need it to be. Frank Kent is the cook.

“Maybe anywhere from 15 to 20 at lunch. Then we got an afternoon when the kids get here so that’s another small crowd. Anywhere from 50 to maybe 70, 80. It’s hard to tell.”

Red Rock is a place where your yard becomes a full city block because there aren’t any other houses. It’s all quiet at the Rock at the height of lunch hour: 12:30. Pick a table, any table.

“We have the Red Rock power plant, we have Ditch Witch in Perry, and there’s the casino, the 7 Clans Casino that the tribe runs, that’s really the only, besides farming, the only thing that’s going on in Red Rock.”

Marty Williams farms canola, wheat, soybeans on a couple thousand acres. He was initially open to the proposal from the Otoe Missouria Tribe. They promised up to 50 jobs, and a bean crushing plant. But the problem was the beans they wanted to harvest.

“Let’s just say you have a custom combine crew come into harvest your soybeans, and they don’t realize that they just cut through two castor bean plants and it gets in our truck and gets hauled to the elevator up here,” says Williams.

“And a random sample is drawn and that castor bean is in there, they’re going to quarantine that entire elevator. And that in itself has a multimillion dollar impact in Noble County, north central Oklahoma.”

Then when he didn’t get answers to his questions about the crop, he started to wonder. Castor contains ricin, a poison that can cause dehydration, vomiting, even death.

Marty wasn’t alone. Local crop growers who didn’t want their names on air told me they saw a “my way or the highway” attitude from experts brought in by the tribe. They told me when those experts called castor beans completely safe, that got their attention. Republican Representative Dale Dewitt sponsored the bill outlawing production.

“I just can’t imagine putting all the producers of Oklahoma that have been producers for years on wheat and corn and milo and soybeans that are producing safe crops a safe food supply, putting them in jeopardy, to bring in a new crop that we know has got some problems.”

John Shotton is Chairman of the Otoe Missouria Tribe. He said they started researching the plan a couple years ago, and thought they had a stumbled upon just what Red Rock needed.

“We thought we had a real good opportunity not only to help the tribe with the employment opportunities and to develop a green energy source, but also to help with some local farmers in the community to bring some economic stimulus to the area.”

It’s a while away, but they might still have that opportunity. Republican Mike Schultz was behind the Senate version of the bill. A farmer himself, he says castor could become a possibility, but only if a new bean is developed without ricin.

“Let’s slow this thing down and make sure we understand what we’re dealing with before we just turn something loose with the potential of contaminating all of the grain supply of Oklahoma.”

Some in Red Rock hope it does get a second look. Not necessarily the farmers, but others who could benefit from new development in the town of less than 3-hundred. Mary Prusa was running into The Rock at lunchtime.

“Oh, it could help the town out tremendously. I mean it would probably help the school and just everything. You know bring more families here.”

John Shotton says they could have transformed Red Rock.

“It wasn’t a tremendous profit maker for the Tribe but it was an opportunity to provide some employment to develop somewhat of a tax base for an area of the county that doesn’t really have one. We were going to put in a lot of infrastructure in the city to support the plant. But that’s how it goes.”

Until the next idea comes, a small white board rests against a bench outside the Rock. Scribbled on it: “Free Bread, Free Potatoes”.

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